Ho Ho Feel edged a thrilling feature, Caspar Fownes notched a three-timer to hit 700 career wins, Super Form stunned the crowd at odds of 94.0 and turnover hit a new high as Happy Valley’s 2016/17 season got off the ground tonight (Wednesday, 7 September).
A nod of the head made the difference at the climax of the 1650m Community Chest Cup and it was Derek Leung celebrating at the pull-up as the market’s 6.1 second choice, Ho Ho Feel, poked out his nose to repel the late-driving Happy Contender under Olivier Doleuze.
“We had a good draw (3) and the plan was to sit handy, because he had a light weight (116lb) and if he got too far behind they’d be hard to catch,” said Leung, who had notched his first win of the current Hong Kong campaign at Saturday’s Sha Tin season opener.
“He’s not a 1650 metres horse, he’s more an 1800 to 2000 metres horse, so the steady pace suited him – he was able to sit handily without working too hard. In the straight he just kept going and held on by a nose. It’s great to get a cup race so early in the season.”
It was a third win at start 13 for the Australian-bred five-year-old, who rounded out last term with a victory at the course over 1800m and two close seconds (1800m and 2000m) as he climbed into Class 3.
“The horse is in very good form,” said trainer Dennis Yip. “At the end of last season his form was on the up, consistently, and he’s continued that. I think we’ll step him up in trip again now. There’s an 1800 metres race here at Happy Valley on the 28th and then later we’ll may be go 2000 metres again.”
Fownes, meanwhile, was delighted to hit his latest career milestone at Hong Kong’s city track, a venue he has made almost his own down the years. The three-time champion trainer teamed up with Zac Purton to click wins 698 and 699 with Speedy Wally in the Class 5 Sheung Tak Handicap (1650m) and 3.3 favourite Victory Marvel in the Class 4 Oi Man Handicap (1200m). Karis Teetan got the job done in the last, guiding Blocker Dee wide and late to clinch the Class 2 Yau Oi Handicap (1200m).
“That was great – to do it on my home turf! I’m back to getting my crown back here after my moderate performance last year. I love Happy Valley so it’s appropriate that I’ve hit the magic number over here,” said Fownes, who lost the Happy Valley leading trainer title to Danny Shum last term. Of his 700 Hong Kong wins, 366 have been achieved at Happy Valley.
“I think all three horses can go on and snag another win or two for me,” Fownes continued. “That’s what you need, horses that can go and win a couple because it’s so competitive in Hong Kong now.”
Purton clinched his own treble, storming late and wide with a perfectly-timed run aboard Hang’s Decision to take race seven, the Class 3 Wah Fu Handicap (1200m), by a comfortable length.
Earlier on the card, Super Form belied his less-than super form and mammoth odds to carry off the Shun Lee Handicap under Teetan, sluicing late down centre-track to take the Class 4 by half a length. It was a first career win for the Irish import, the four-year-old having failed to place in six previous Hong Kong starts.
“Like a lot of horses from Europe he’s taken time and unfortunately last year he got an injury so he was off for a lot of the time – he hurt his tendon so I couldn’t really get stuck into him and he got a bit fat,” said winning handler Tony Millard.
“This season I’ve changed his work and given him the type of work I’d have liked to have given him last year and he’s responded well.
“He just needed his barrier trial and I gave him a jump-out on the grass last week and he’s come on from that. Certainly he liked the going today (good to yielding), that rain tonight and the juice in the ground helped.”
The night’s turnover hit HK$1.019 billion, a new record for the first midweek meeting of a Hong Kong season, up 8.6% from last year’s HK$938 million figure. A crowd of more than 16,600 enjoyed the action.
Ho Ho Feel (no. 9) under Derek Leung takes the Community Chest Cup by a nose from the fast-finishing Happy Contender.